I woke up before the alarm went off Saturday morning. I had time to eat
a tuna cup before heading out from camp. When I turned on the radio, the
first thing I heard was Khaki saying “It’s 4:48, time for me to tell
you… it’s fun to stay at the Y…M…C…A…” The party was going strong at
the Hookadome when I rode past it and out to the Man. Big spotlights were
up, illuminating the whole area. The perimeter around the Man was closed
off late Friday night, and the structure was already getting prepped for
the burn. I took a couple of pictures, then took off for Ranger HQ. When
I got to the Esplanade, there were camps I didn't recognize. I followed
the road around until it... ended. There was nothing but blank playa
beyond. I'd gotten turned around at the Man and ended up way over
at the Ten O'Clock road. Oops.
It was a long ride back across the playa to HQ. Stingray was there,
and I said hi to Marker. When I checked in, they put me down as a dirt
ranger that could be called on in case of a Green Dot situation. When assignments
came up, Marker and I got sent out to the Man for perimeter duty. We got
out there just before sunrise. We met up with Mr. Po and Sharkbite, who
gifted me a beautiful glass dish. The trash fence was already up around
the inner perimeter, and our job was to keep everybody out. A guy came
up, upset that the Man was shut down, and said, "Could I come back this
afternoon?" No, I said, it would still be closed. (I almost told him to
come back the next day-- nobody would stop him then.) Sharkbite and I met
a delightful girl called Anarchy, who stood close to me to get out of the
chilly breeze. She wasn't exactly dressed for the early morning. Anarchy
said she went to the Critical Tits parade, but it was held "on the far
side of the moon," pointing out into deep playa. She said she was camped
at the post office-- not the main one, the other one. She gave me a very
nice kiss on the cheek when she left. I never saw her again.
I saw a woman in a colorful coat inside the perimeter taking photographs.
Nobody was supposed to be inside the perimeter. With all the fencing
around, I didn't know how she got in. I went up and asked, "May I help
you?" which she found amusing. It turned out to be Crimson Rose, the Managing
Art Director of Burning Man! I hoped my humiliation didn't show much. We
talked about cameras for a couple of minutes. She had wondered why someone
would be out there wearing a hard hat. (It was Ranger Marker.) At 8 AM,
the pyrotechnic crew arrived, and everyone, Rangers included, had to get
I was put on perimeter at the 6 o'clock position. We had rangers surrounding
the perimeter out there at all times. People still came by, even though
it was closed up. I met a nce girl named Samantha, and a guy from Washington
DC named Mike. He said that when DC was sit with the "snowpocalypse" that
previous winter, he wqas stuck in his 600-square-foot apartment for days.
I met a guy named Ed. "Just Ed," he said.
While I was on station, a couple of people rolled a little cart up to the
fence and started cooking bacon to give away to people. It was neat and
generous, but then a half-naked, suntanned guy started harassing him about
animal cruelty. (I never got the suntanned guy's name; in my mind I called
him... Turdwaffel.) Turdwaffel wanted me to use my radio to call
law enforcement so that he could have the bacon guy arrested for
animal cruelty. He made a big fuss about it, too. When I wouldn't
do it, Turdwaffel got aggravated with me, and took something I said in
passing as a policy statement from the whole Ranger organization. He even
got out a camera and videoed me without my permission. (His camera
had no video tag, which every video camera on the playa was supposed to
have-- his argument was that video wasn't really "photography") He got
in everybody's face and made an annoying spectacle of himself. One lady
listening to Turdwaffel's ranting commented, "You're really full of yourself,
aren't you?" Another guy laughed at Turdwaffel, and jokingly said, "If
you don't like meat, how about a knuckle sandwich?" before biking away.
Turdwaffel got mad at me again for not calling the cops to
report the guy on the bike for assault. His mousy, enabler girlfriend
kept backing him up, making him appear almost reasonable. He swore he was
going to use his video to embaress the whole Ranger organization, especially
me. Turdwaffel read my handle off my lammie and wrote it down in
a pocket notebook -- he said he was going to report me to Ranger
Headquarters. I pointed him in the right direction across the playa to
HQ. He finally went on his way, saying he was going to drop off an anti-meat
CD for me at HQ... when he went there to get me fired.
|A girl on a fuzzy blue tricycle came by talking about cameras. It turned
out she fixed cameras for a living. I showed her what was weong with my
digital camera, and her advice was "get another camera." Getting it fixed
would cost as much as the camera, she said. That was disappointing to hear.
I really didn't like the idea of buying another camera.
I spoke to Coffin, one of the pyrotechs. He said everything was on schedulefor
the burn that night-- loading the combustibles, accelerants and explosives
in the structure, but then he squinted against the white-out sandstorm
conditions and said, "I hope people will be able to see it!"
Ranger Wish was in charge of us all out at "the Stick." She gave us
the chance to be rotated back into patrolling the city, but Marker and
I decided to stay.
When Turdwaffel left, the bacon guy gave me an extra piece of bacon
"for putting up with that bullsh*t." When Ranger Wish came by to see how
I was doing, I told her what happened, and she said, "Oh, for f*ck's sake!"
When Ranger Deuce picked up me and Marker after our shift, he laughed it
off and told me not to worry about it. The other Rangers laughed, too...
but the incident left me disturbed; I kept thinking I could've rangered
the whole thing better. I later wrote in my notebook, "It made me wonder
if I deserved to be a Ranger." I think where I went wrong was trying
to join in on any kind of conversation. After it was obvious I wasn't going
to grant Turdwaffel's wishes, anything I said from then on was considered
provocative to him. I became an adversary in his eyes. What
I should have done was try to stay neutral and noncommittal,
and just be an objective observer. It's likely he would've acted
like a jerk anyway. I came to suspect that Turdwaffel never really video
taped me at all, but just pretended to. (I mean, seriously, who says "fish
eye lens" anymore?) In the long run, the only thing I was guilty of was
keeping some cop from wasting his time taking a frivolous complaint from
a selfish participant... and if I get in trouble for that, so be it.
When you hassle an unpaid volunteer who's just trying to do his job,
you’re not being funny and you’re not being clever. You’re being a dick.
As I waited for the end of the shift, people dressed in Superman costumes
started showing up at the trash fence, and by noon there were a hundred
or more gathered together in the swirling dust. They said they were going
for a world record for most people dressed as superheroes. A guy called
Pixel drove up in a truck and delivered a big wooden box to the perimeter
fence. The box was for combustible donations. I suggested it might not
be a good idea to smoke so close to explosives, and he put out his cigarette.
The wind just kept picking up, kicking more and more dust in the air.
Marker and I got back to HQ, and Deuce was about to reassign us when he
found out we'd been on duty since 6 AM. "You're done!" he said-- but before
we could leave, we got asked to help a couple of burners with a stuck art
car. It had thrown a wheel and had been stuck beside the 5 O'Clock road
for two days. We thought about getting a Ranger vehicle, picking up the
art car trailer from their camp, and getting a bunch of guys to load it
up, but then we spotted the Ranger tow truck parked beside HQ. We spoke
with Sir Bill, who looked over the situation, and said the only way to
tow it might mess up the axle. The participants decided to leave it stuck
where it was and wait until after the event to move it. One of the participants
was a veteran, and was walking around on prosthetic legs. He planned to
skydive later that day!
I trudged back to HQ, clocked out of my shift, and went to the commissary
for lunch: baked potatoes. I felt pretty baked myself by that point. We
met Ranger Hogwallow, a football player from Chicago. Back at HOTD, I took
a short nap in my tent, but it was just too hot in there. The wind just
kept getting worse. I got a beer and sat in the bar catching up on my writing.
The bar was full of folks listening to live music. Claudia was onstage,
singing an original song about Mark's bacon, and Spoon falling onto the
playa. A girl named Melanie got up to sing, and she was amazing, singing
deep, soulful blues.
The wind kept blowing all day. Dust obscured everything more than 40 yards
away. It looked like a hellacious night for a burn. "It's always like this,"
Mark said. "The wind blows and there's a white-out, but then the wind dies
down and we have the burn." He took my picture while I was back in the
kitchen tent. I wondered if there was a camp on the Esplanade where I could
just sit and watch the burn. Back at my tent, I was filling up my canteen
when I noticed Kim and Connie loading up their bikes-- they were leaving!
They'd been out Friday night when it really got bad out and didn't want
to face the burn. "We're chicken!" Kim laughed. She gave me a homemade
postcard, and I promised to keep in touch.
As it got dark, the idea of stomping all the way out to the dusty playa
to watch the burn became less and less appealing. I'd seen the Man burn
up close before, and besides, the rash on my leg was really hurting me.
Moving was agony. Then, I realized I could see the Man off in the distance
from the bar. The prospect of watching the show from the comfort of camp
became overwhelming. So, I settled back on a barstool and relaxed. Night
fell, and the streets began to empty out. Traffic on the streets died down
considerably. There were only three or so of us in the bar. Five blocks
back from the Esplanade we could still hear the drums, the sounds of thousands
of people out in the darkness.
When the fireworks show started, I couldn’t help myself. The lure of the
flames was too great. I just had to get a closer look. I hurried down the
8 O’clock street to the Esplanade and walked out into the bare playa. The
fireworks were amazing, and I got to see the first flames crawl up the
I looked behind me, and it was as if a thick, black curtain was being drawn
across the campsite. The wind had picked up again. A big wave of dust washed
over me. Dust was everywhere. I pulled my goggles over my eyes and held
my handkerchief to my mouth to breathe. I had my flashlight, but it showed
only empty playa for 20 feet all around. It seemed like I was alone
out there, though there could have been hundreds of people all around me
in the darkness. Monstrous clouds of dust rolled over the landscape, obscuring
everything, including the burning Man. The dust would make everything disappear,
and then the conflagration would emerge from the dust, elemental, fierce
When the Man fell, it was like the entire tower structure was crushed by
a giant invisible hand-- the whole thing came down in one, big, fiery crash.
Thousands of people were out there in the dark, but I only heard the low
moan of distant cheers…
Original content (c)opyright 2010 by Tim Frayser
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